Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Social Convention

I've lived in Kansas for a long time now. But I still don't understand social conventions here. I'm from the south where we have lots of social conventions, and I won't say they're all straightforward, but I understand them. I don't understand them here, and so far no one I've asked has been able to explain them to me. I have some recent examples.

1. Recently someone I have met a few times made it a point to say to me, "I'd like to have some time to visit with you. If you're open to that, let me know when it's a good time." I reply, "I'd really like that, too. I'll check my calendar and get back with you." I do. I email and suggest a couple of different times. They don't respond. At all.

I don't get that. Why in heaven's name would you bother to say you'd like to visit if you don't really want to? What purpose does that serve? Is the purpose to see if I'll follow through? What? I don't get it.

I have waited five days for a reply. Today when a friend asked if I wanted to go to lunch over one of the time frames I suggested I said yes. Obviously, there's no point in keeping that time open because although a week ago I was of interest to this person, that is no longer the case. Also, at this point, if you hadn't heard from me, wouldn't you follow up?

The "norm" where I'm from is to not say to people you'd like to visit if you really don't want to visit. Seems simple to me, but I've run into this over and over and over again. I can't count the number of times someone has said to me, "Lets have lunch soon." I try to arrange a time and it never happens. I still don't know what, "lets have lunch" means here. Where I'm from it means lets get together around noon some day soon and eat a meal together. That's what "lets have lunch" has always meant until I moved here. I keep asking people what it means here - because it doesn't mean lets eat the noon meal together - but I still don't know. People say it a lot. But I don't know what it means. I can deduce from years of experience that it has nothing to do with eating lunch together.

2. With a couple of notable exceptions, I'm the one that makes arrangements for a social gathering. I call for lunch. I invite people over. I arrange weekends away. Where I'm from we operate on the unwritten "rule of three," meaning if I invite you over three times and you don't come, it's up to me to figure out that you don't really want to be involved in my world and it's rude of me to keep asking. So, I stop asking and move on to other people. It's a polite, understood, social convention. No one's feelings are hurt. Everyone has an "out." Everyone goes on about their business.

By the same token, although it's not a "keeping score" situation, if I invite you over and we gather at my house, at some point you would host. That just does not happen here. I've accepted that. It doesn't bother me anymore. It used to. The first few years I lived here I was sure everyone just hated me. The first year I lived here I had to work Christmas and no one invited me over. I was shocked. I just accepted, "oh, wow, they really do hate me." Over time I realized that, by and large, they're not inviting anyone over except family. So, if you move here like I did with no family, you are just screwed. I still think about the fact that people don't invite you over, and think it's very odd, but it no longer hurts my feelings, which it used to do. I always wonder what in the world people are doing in their houses here that they are afraid of people seeing.

In the past month I've gone to four different gatherings/lunches/dinners with people I've not gotten together with before. In every case, at the end of the event, the reaction is, "oh, we must do this again!" However, no one has contacted me about doing it again. Did they mean they want to do it again five years from now? Did they mean next year? Did they have no interest in doing it again and this was just what they say at the end of such a thing? Did they mean lets have lunch that doesn't really mean eating lunch together?  I don't know.

My "norm" is that if you want to do this again, you make plans to do it again. If you don't want to do it again, you don't say you want to do it again. If it's lunch - something simple - you would try to do it again in a week or two. If it's dinner maybe within a month or so, realizing that scheduling may be difficult so you need to make plans soon. If it's an event you've attended together, you would be in contact through email or facebook saying, "oh, I heard about this event..."

A side note here - I hate it when people do invite me to lunch or something, with the pretense that they want to visit, when what they really want is use my brain, or talk about work, or some other reason beside just connecting. Pretty much, if there's a "purpose" to our gathering, I want to know it upfront. It's like the old bait and switch. You lure me into lunch with the idea of having fun and instead you really just want to use my creativity for your own project. That's just nasty.

3. A few weeks ago I was asked for a favor by someone I don't know and haven't even met. I have become the local "tea expert" and they wanted some information on how I do teas for the MHA. I freely shared information and said I'd like to purchase tickets to their tea.

Last night, realizing the date is fast approaching, I contacted them to remind them I wanted to purchase tickets. I was told that if they have any left after their members have an opportunity to buy them, then I can purchase them.

Excuse me? I'm sorry. Did I understand correctly? I do you a favor when I have absolutely no connection to you and your organization and you thank me by telling me I'm in line to get tickets if there are any left after other people get first crack at buying them.

In my "norm," the social convention would have been to say, "ordinarily, this tea is only for our members but you've been so kind I want to offer you a pair of complimentary tickets." To which I would have replied, "thank you so much. I'd love to come, but I'm happy to purchase the tickets since it's a fundraiser." At that point, depending on the price of the tickets, the person graciously accepts or declines that purchase. If they're $5 tickets, you give them to the person. If they're $45 tickets, you allow them to purchase because that would be a big dent in your profit margin. But you do not tell the person who has done you a favor that they can buy a ticket if you have any left after offering them to people who have not done you favors.

I keep trying to "get it" when it comes to social convention here, but it escapes me. I'm lost. And my gut reaction to things is often that people are being really rude. And that hurts my feelings. And that's just an ugly circle. So, I keep trying to "get it" so I can avoid the rude/hurt/ugly part. However, no one will explain it to me so I seem destined to not be able to break out of that cycle. I can't believe anyone is intentionally trying to be rude, but it's hard for me to classify it as anything but rude when it is so contrary to what I believe basic politeness would indicate.

Am I the one who's clueless? Do I come from an area where we do things differently than everyone else in the world? I'm hoping, hoping, hoping, that someone who reads here will be able to explain it to me. If I just had the midwest social convention rule book I could learn the rules and break this cycle.
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3 comments:

Lisa T (in VA) said...

I loved this post and will email you directly. Hang in there!

Anonymous said...

I totally get where you're coming from. I have similar problems as well with my friends. I don't think it's that people hate you, but I do think it means they don't really care about you, and it's best to move on and try to make better friends.

Patsy Terrell said...

I go through periods where I just "move on." Invariably what happens is eventually the other person says, "why did you stop calling? are you mad at me?" Even when I have the conversation with them about WHY I stopped it doesn't change anything.

I've finally decided it's a difference in social convention, and not an assessment of me personally, but it's sure hard not to see it as a personal affront.

These thoughts make me so appreciative of people like Trish who take responsibility for the relationship at the same level as I do. And people like Teresa who will almost always say "yes" to anything fun.

There are people I've let go of in my life because it's just too much effort to connect with them. When I bump into them and they express how sorry they are that they haven't seen me I put the ball in their court and say, "well, call me for lunch when your schedule allows and we'll get together. I'd love to see you again." So far I'm still waiting for the phone call. :)